Hey Leaders, Sometimes Ambiguity is the Right Choice!

Updated: Feb 2

For those of you in sales, you know that securing a spot in the President's Club (P-Club) is a big deal. It’s the goal the entire sales organization is collectively working towards each year. The trip is typically glamorous, but even more important, there’s an immense amount of respect and recognition paid to those who secure a spot. I’ve personally never seen sales be anything other than an extremely grueling role (for the record I wish it wasn’t this way), so when I secured my first p-club award I felt that the company was finally seeing, appreciating and validating how hard I’d worked.

Now, flash forward to the second year I secured this prestigious position, the company was suffering a bit. The stock price had dropped, we just hired an interim CEO and new CFO and we had lost a few key clients. Despite all of that, there was still a group of sales leaders and reps who had overachieved and hit the milestones to qualify them for p-club, myself included. The organization I worked for at the time continued to boast posters advertising the exciting reward trip to the tropics to get those qualified excited and to motivate others that were close to hitting.

As the new year turned and the trip approached, all of those eligible to attend started to get curious around when we’d hear more about the trip. The weeks passed and then one day the posters were gone, a meeting was called and just like that, the trip was cancelled.

Leadership claimed they had been going back and forth over this decision for months. They knew they were going to need to make a change to the trip or cancel it all together. They explained that they hadn’t expressed this to us directly because they thought it would demotivate and distract us from closing out the year. They also wanted to present things to us when they had the final plan in place. Which in this case, was no trip, celebration or monetary reward, but a plaque that we could put on our desks. They were sorry.

We all left the meeting with our heads hanging, crushed. Collectively, we felt as if they had been lying to us for all of the months they spent going back and forth on this trip. We felt they knew all along that no matter how it played out, it would not be the trip they had presented to us. This memory will forever live with me, because personally, it was when everything changed. My love and devotion for the mission and leadership team shifted. From that moment on, I felt skeptical and untrusting.

Now that I’ve been a leader and I’m now a skilled and trained coach and expert in leadership development, I understand why the organization handled it the way they did, but I certainly don’t agree with the approach. The leaders were plagued with fear themselves and figured it would be better to be wrong than ambiguous while they were working through the changes. Their fear stripped them from the ability to be open, transparent and honest with the company's highest achieving sales team members. Their fear led them to forget the fact that we’re all human and typically, if we understand the why behind something we are able to find acceptance and empathy. Their fear led them to oversee the impact in which their delivery of this news could and would have on all of us and our motivation.

This was my first real professional life lesson around the importance of clear and transparent communication. If they had pulled all of us into a room when they first realized the trip was going to look different and said,

“Hi Everyone - First, I want to thank and congratulate all of you on your performance this year, it’s been truly remarkable. I want to promise you that it has not gone unnoticed and we recognize how hard you’ve worked to get here.

As you all are aware, you’re close to or have secured a spot to our annual Presidents Club trip and we could not be more excited and proud of you for that. What you are also aware of, is the fact that we unexpectedly lost two of our highest paying and impactful clients over the last 6 months. This has impacted our financials in a way we weren’t anticipating. As leaders, we should have had better insight into this and we should have built a contingency plan, but we did not. We take full responsibility for this and we are learning from our mistakes every day.

We are not in danger of anyone losing their jobs, we can promise you this. However, we do need to be very conscious of how we are spending our money so that this never becomes a concern. With that being said, it would not be in our best interest to invest in the high cost trip we had planned for Presidents Club. We know this is extremely difficult to stomach, trust us when we tell you this was one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make, but the health and stability of this company is our number one priority.

This decision does not change how appreciative we are of all of you or how proud you should be of yourselves. To showcase this, we are still going to celebrate you, it’s just going to look a little different this year. To be transparent, we don’t know what it will look like yet and we won’t until we close out the year, but we can promise that we will communicate updates as soon as they become available to us.”

How different we all could have felt. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Sure, there are lot’s of unknowns in this scenario and there’s still a lot of room for anger, resentment, disappointment, etc. but, there is honesty and transparency. There is the opportunity to provide feedback to leadership and for direct managers, HR and senior leadership to come in and proactively participate in damage control. There is also opportunity to truly live into the values that the company built around connection and transparency.

I share this story because as leaders we oftentimes feel like we need to have it all figured out before we communicate with our teams. I personally disagree with this approach because the impact of doing it that way and being wrong is so much more damaging than cluing the group into ambiguity and being willing to accept our own shortcomings and mistakes and grow with them.

Written By: Tara Ryan, Infinidei Founder/CEO